Friday, November 26, 2010

The Story of the World’s First Snowboarder

In 490BC the Greek army defeated the Persian army at the Battle of Marathon. A solider called Pheidippides was chosen to convey the happy news back to Athens, which he did in some style, by running the whole way before giving the news to a grateful public and promptly keeling over and dying. For no obvious reason this appealed to some people the sport of marathon running was invented...

Although they have since dropped the compulsory nakedness

This is unsurprisingly not a common way for a sport to be invented. Other promising sports such as rocket-catching and shark-boxing have struggled to get off the ground after the first people to try them died horribly. 

But, by managing to avoid death, others have been more successful...

In 1893, a posh lad called William Web Ellis was playing football (soccer) at school when one day he decided to pick up the ball and run with it. If that had happened at my school that lad would have got a proper beating, but things were apparently a little different for Web Ellis because he was given a pat on the back and credited with starting the game of rugby. 
Web Ellis – Dirty cheat

Those are two examples where the specific person who first tried a sport was recorded in the hive mind of Wikipedia for posterity. Every sport had someone who tried it first, some are remembered by name, others are long forgotten, but the one thing is a constant is that the person is almost invariable a bloke. Who was the first snowboarder then?

If you trace back the history of snowboarding you get back to a time in the 60s and 70s where things get a bit murky. A lot of guys had various important parts to play in the origins of snowboarding, but if need to narrow things down to a single design then you have to start with the Snurfer.

Back when Yahoo! was cool

The Snurfer was the first mass produced snowboard (although they weren’t called that then, it took a few more years and fair bit of legal shenanigans before the word snowboard came to be). During its production about half a million Snurfers were produced and it was this toy that got some of the early snowboarding pioneers like Jake Burton Carpenter involved in the sport.

Here’s a video of some hot Snurfing action

And this is the original patent

Featuring the world's first invisible snowboarder

If you fancy a read of it you can look forward to some pretty flowery legalese such as: 
‘A snow coasting device for use as a mono-ski with both feet of the skier thereon disposed fore and aft and unbound, in the form of an elongated board or the like generally flat transversely having a width greater than the normal pair of skis and a length less than the length of the normal ski of a pair of skis’ and so on and so forth...

First cobbled together on Christmas day 1965 by a man called Sherman Poppen and named by his wife Nancy, the first Snurfer was simply two small skis bound together.

Sherman Poppen and his pet Snurfers, including the original one 

Sherman might have been the inventor, but he wasn’t the first person to try riding it, because that honour went to his daughter. Yup, the world’s first snowboarder was a 10 year old girl called Wendy Poppen. Girl Power!

Today Wendy she is a slightly older lady who doesn’t snowboard and has a penchant for wearing pink wigs, but her first steps (or slides) were the first of any snowboarder and as the pathfinder of our sport we salute you Wendy.

Sean White is her biggest fan

If you want to know more about the Snurfer there’s a good interview with Sherman Poppen about his invention still available on the old Flakezine site, and he recently donated all his memorabilia to the Smithsonian museum so you can now make a pilgrimage if you chose to. 

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At roughly the same time in Finland a kid called Paavo Kärkkäinen made Europe’s first snowboard.

We also made this nice snowboarding history timeline

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    My name is Victor Macias. I am the co-founder of We touch on issues that affect men including ambition topics that motivate and inspire. We just posted on article on pro snowboarders JJ Thomas and Josh Sherman. The article is titled "Shredding on and off the Mountain: JJ Thomas and Josh Sherman."

    We invite you to check it out and share it with your readers if you think they'll like it.


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